Getting sick can put a real quick end to a summer vacation or weekend. Here are some safety tips and rules to practice when in the pool this summer.
If you want to stay safe and healthy at your local community pool, there’s more to remember than no running in the splash zone. From water-borne diseases to rashes and other infections, here are a few precautions to take before diving into swim season:
Test the waters
It’s tempting to make a beeline for the water. But experts say you should know what you’re getting into – literally and figuratively – before jumping into the pool.
“The last time we went through large batches of pool inspection data forms, in some of the states, we saw that 1 out of 8 routine pool inspections … resulted in an immediate closure” due to poor water quality, says Dr. Michael Beach, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Waterborne Diseases Branch. “Many times it was due to a lack of chlorine.”
Wondering if your pool’s properly maintained? It’s easy to find out, says Tom Lachocki, who has a doctorate in chemistry and is CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation, a nonprofit that provides training and certification for aquatic professionals. Just buy some test strips – most are available at home improvement stores – that measure the pH and free chlorine level in the water. “These are the most important parameters; to make sure you have disinfectant in the water, and to make sure the disinfectant is working properly,” Lachocki says. Test strips are typically inexpensive, accurate and easy to use.
Take a shower before you swim
Oil. Sweat. Sunscreen. Bug repellent. Makeup. Dirt. If it’s on your skin – and it’s been a while since you last bathed – it’ll soon be in the pool.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Water Quality & Health Council, more than 40 percent of swimmers skip the shower and jump straight into the water. But to keep the facilities clean, it’s important to always rinse off before swimming, says Chris Wiant, chair of the Water Quality & Health Council, an independent group sponsored by the Chlorine Chemistry Division of the American Chemistry Council.
Don’t pee in the pool or go swimming with diarrhea
It sounds like a no-brainer – don’t pee in the pool. But in a recent survey by the Water Quality & Health Council, 55 percent of respondents admitted to urinating in the water at least once.
Aside from the obvious “ick” factor, there are health consequences of peeing in the pool, Lachocki says. The interaction between the ammonia in the urine and the chlorine in the pool forms a chemical called chloramine. Chloramine is less effective at killing bacteria than chlorine, and it can lead to an increase in water-borne illnesses.
Don’t drink the water
Take regular breaks
Between sunburn, heatstroke, dehydration and low blood sugar, a long day at the pool can take a toll on the body. Lachocki recommends parents round up their kids at regular intervals for a quick food, water, sunscreen, and bathroom break.
Watch out for uncovered drains
“Keep an eye on the main drains” – the portals that suck water into the filtration system, Lachocki says. “If you see them damaged, broken or missing, they should be reported to the facilities right away and closed until they’re replaced.”
Refrain from swimming with wounds
There are many myths suggesting that swimming in chlorine or salt water can help “disinfect” or clean a wound. In fact an open wound is an entry point for germs. Don’t go swimming with a major cut or injury.
Bring eardrops, goggles and pool shoes
Protect your eyes, ears, and feet at the pool. Bring a pair of goggles to shield your eyes from the water – and keep in mind they’re not turning red because of the chlorine. (According to Wiant, it’s the chloramine, urine, sweat or other biological products binding with the chlorine that’s making your vision blurry.)
And wear pool shoes, such as flip-flops or rubber clogs, while walking around the deck or locker room. This way, you won’t get athlete’s foot.
Change your bathing suit
You can get hot tub rash – a bumpy, itchy infection that’s often caused by the germ Pseudomonas aeruginosa – if you’ve taken a dip in a poorly maintained pool or Jacuzzi. They’re uncomfortable but usually go away in a few days. However, you can decrease your risk of getting a rash by putting on a fresh bathing suit or changing into dry clothing shortly after swimming, Beach says. Leaving on a wet bathing suit increases exposure of contaminated water to the skin – which is why the rash is often worse in areas covered by a bathing suit than in other regions of the body.
Put away your cell phone
Morris says he’s heard increasing reports that poolside texting is becoming a safety hazard at community recreation facilities. It’s an understandable situation, he says. If you’re a parent, babysitter or guardian, it’s tempting to check your text messages while your ward runs around the pool area or splashes in the water. The lifeguard’s watching your child, even if you aren’t – right?